Spaceport Cornwall is set to deliver the first ever launch from the UK soil this summer, creating a service for small satellites in the UK. In the lead up to this historic moment, they are set to release their ‘Sustainability Impact Report and Action Plan’ — the first of its kind to be published by a spaceport, that transparently shares the impacts of launch activity from Cornwall — opening the conversation with peers and the public to pave the road to responsible launch.
Small satellites will play a crucial role in the fight against climate change with increased Earth Observation leading to deeper Environmental Intelligence — this provides the data needed to inform policy both locally and globally and ultimately safeguard the planet.
While the benefits of small satellite launches are increasingly evident there are also detrimental impacts that cannot be ignored. The report has been created to share those impacts, both offering and seeking opportunities to reduce them through open collaboration.
The report focuses on five key areas where launch from Cornwall could have a negative effect. It details the current expected impact, the target to be achieved in order to mitigate this impact, and how this will be reached. The five areas of impact are: Carbon Emissions, Biodiversity, Marine Environment, On-Site Facilities and Space Debris.
Satellites are fighting climate change, but their launch has a carbon impact. Historically, not much has been done about the impact of launch and this is what Spaceport Cornwall, along with launch partners Virgin Orbit, are seeking to change. With the emissions from the horizontal launch technology already being significantly less than vertical launch, the commitment for negating this impact is to reach Carbon Neutrality by 2030 — with Virgin Orbit committed to offsetting launch emissions in the short term through the purchase of UK Domestic Woodland Carbon Units.
The targets for tackling the impacts in the four other areas will be reached through R&D and engagement. The Centre for Space Technologies, Spaceport Cornwall will conduct world-leading research into developing cleaner fuels, finding more sustainable satellite materials and launch methods, and supporting debris collection on Earth and in space. To ensure they will not add to current debris issues in Low Earth Orbit, all satellites and spacecraft will be licensed by the CAA and they will work to progress an ethical launch framework.
Research will also be conducted into the impact of debris on the marine environment, with the focus on setting a new industry standard for analysis of this impact. While spaceport activities have been found to have no adverse effect on biodiversity within the existing airport masterplan, Spaceport Cornwall has committed to a 10% biodiversity gain with the Spaceport Development Zone.
The launch of Kernow Sat-1, the G7 legacy funded community satellite, will be key to increasing biodiversity monitoring within the region and the data collected will support seagrass restoration and kelp forest installation around the coast of Cornwall.
Before the report is released to the public, to further inform and help create world-leading solutions to the impacts outlined in its first iteration, Spaceport Cornwall have launched a Sustainability Steering Group of environmental experts and stakeholders from across Cornwall which commenced at an Environmental Intelligence event held at the Eden Project on Friday the 4th of February. They will now work with spokespeople from each sector related to their areas of focus, asking them to review and consult on the findings and progress the action plan to its next stages, helping to manage impacts and drive positive benefits.
Spaceport Cornwall is on a mission to become the World’s most responsible and ethical gateway to space and this report will be the first key step on that journey. More on the release and the steering committee can be found here.
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, “We believe transparency and openness need to be a priority in our industry, because the impacts and outcomes affect us all. That’s why we are calling for a steering group to help us further this report — we’re committing to do things differently — to show the world that space launch can be transparent and to change things for the better. Our aim is to report on our commitments and impacts every year in a way that is accessible and meaningful for everyone. This is just the beginning and we are looking forward to leading the way.”
Ian Annett, Deputy CEO UK Space Agency said, “For many years, satellites have been on the front line of our efforts to monitor climate change and inform effective global action. But as the space industry continues to grow and we look ahead to the first UK launches this year, it’s vital that we work together to minimise environmental impacts wherever possible.
“We have put in place a modern regulatory regime to support safe and sustainable launch, and I look forward to continuing work with Spaceport Cornwall and other UK spaceports to promote a vibrant and responsible sector that provides real benefits to local communities, businesses and the environment.”
Patrick McCall, Virgin Group, “We’re proud to be a part of Spaceport Cornwall’s call to action for global transformation within the space sector. Virgin Orbit is committed to launching responsibly and for the betterment of our planet. The upcoming launch this summer from Cornwall offers a unique opportunity for us to set the bar — creating a world leading launch site through transparent practices and collaborative solutions.”
Councillor Richard Pears, Portfolio Holder for Customers, Cornwall Council, “Space tech is critical for the future of this country and our planet as a whole. We will build the UK’s first horizontal launch spaceport, we will launch Cornwall’s first community satellite – Kernow Sat-1, we will create a thriving technology sector to support this, and we will put Cornwall at the cutting edge of science and technology.”